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ND Women’s Golf: Young team strives to replicate last season

Jack Hefferon | Friday, August 19, 2011

Coming off a season that included a Big East championship, a top-25 ranking and their first NCAA championship berth, the challenge for the Irish will now be to replicate past success and turn their program into a national powerhouse. With the loss of Katie Conway and So-Hyun Park to graduation and sophomore Nicole Zhang leaving the team, Notre Dame returns this year as a much younger team. The expectations, though, are just as high.

“We’ve got some very talented players to fill the spots we had vacated,” Irish coach Susan Holt said. “We feel good about getting back to those championships.”

Those spots will be filled by another strong recruiting class assembled by Holt, which features freshmen Ashley Armstrong and Kelli Oride. Armstrong has already won over 20 events in her short career, and Oride is ranked as a top-20 recruit. Together, Holt believes they will be a huge factor for the Irish in the upcoming season.

“These freshmen are already experienced, talented players,” Holt said. “They will have to get up to speed with what we do here, but we’re expecting them to have a big impact immediately.”

The task of helping the freshmen adjust will fall on the shoulders of Notre Dame’s three upperclassmen: sophomore Kristina Nhim and seniors Katie Allare and Becca Huffer. After the departure of team leaders Conway and Park, Huffer will have to pick up where they left off, both on the course and in the locker room.

“Katie and So-Hyun meant a lot to this program,” Holt said. “[Huffer] is our top returning player and she’s had a really solid three years for us already. She’s going to be in a leadership role for us, and she will be able to help out the freshmen.”

With a cohesive team of five talented golfers, Notre Dame will look for its first repeat as Big East champion since 2004. Lurking as always, though, will be Louisville. The Irish and Cardinals have won eight of the nine Big East championships since the tournament began in 2003. Last spring, it was Notre Dame’s win at the Big East that propelled them to their unprecedented NCAA success.

“The Big East is a focus for us every year,” Holt said. “We definitely feel good about our chances to repeat.”

Before they get there though, they will face a difficult slate of tournaments in the fall. The schedule opens at the Golfweek Conference Challenge in Colorado, which is comprised of the top teams from each of the major Division I conferences. The Irish will also travel to North Carolina for a pair of highly competitive tournaments.

“This fall schedule will be the most challenging we’ve ever had,” Holt said. “We hope it shows us where we stand heading into the spring.”